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e s f home link - e s f college of environmental science and forestry

imageSUNY–ESF Center Focuses On Native Peoples and the Environment

October 17, 2006

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) has established a Center for Native Peoples and the Environment that will focus on developing connections between traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and western scientific approaches.

Establishment of the Center, the only one of its kind in the Northeast, was announced Oct. 17 during ESF's daylong teach-in on indigenous and western approaches to environmental stewardship.

The center's goal is to create programs that draw on the wisdom of both indigenous and scientific knowledge to address environmental protection and restoration. Center programs will include efforts in education, research and public outreach.

The center director, Dr. Robin W. Kimmerer, said the path to achieving those goals is to integrate multicultural perspectives into courses across the broad spectrum of ESF's programs.

"What makes this center unique is the bridge between western, scientific knowledge and traditional ecological knowledge," Kimmerer said. "This is a way to increase our ability to learn from each other and work together to solve environmental problems."

The college plans to expand its curriculum to include courses that highlight the importance of TEK as a complement to Western science. These courses will include ethnobotany, plants and culture, indigenous issues and the environment, and a seminar in traditional ecological knowledge, as well as integrating TEK into courses across the curriculum to create a minor in Native Americans and the environment.

Kimmerer is a botanist of Native American heritage who is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She is a professor in ESF's Faculty of Environmental and Forest Biology. Kimmerer is the co-founder and past president of the TEK section of the Ecological Society of America and a member of the editorial board for the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science.

The Center is guided by an advisory board consisting of ESF environmental scientists, environmental leaders from Haudenosaunee communities and indigenous educators from around the country. Members include Henry Lickers, director of the Environment Division, Mohawk Council of Akwesasne; Jeanne Shenandoah and Irving Powless, environmental leaders from the Onondaga Nation; Carol Thomas, a SUNY-ESF student from the Onondaga Nation; Jack Manno, an associate professor of environmental science at SUNY-ESF; and Emanuel Carter, an associate professor of landscape architecture at SUNY-ESF.

Kimmerer said the bridge between western knowledge and traditional ecological knowledge is what makes the ESF center unique among academic programs that focus on Native Americans.

"The intent is certainly to incorporate indigenous perspectives and knowledge for the benefit of native students, and to encourage them to incorporate indigenous thinking into their education and research," she said. "But the intent is also to educate the mainstream students in a cross-cultural context. ESF trains a large number of successful and influential environmental professionals, who, at this time, have minimal exposure or understanding of native issues in the environment. I'd like to see a time when familiarity with treaty rights, environmental justice and native science are part of the training of every environmental scientist we graduate."

In addition to broadening the education of ESF students, the center will include a significant outreach element focused on increasing educational opportunities for Native American students in environmental sciences, research collaborations, and partnerships with Native American communities to address local environmental problems.